Union News

More silicosis stats
Following the tragic death of 36 year old Anthony White as a result of silica exposure, Ann Wason Moore, in an opinion piece in the Bulletin, refers to a frightening statistic. According to the Cancer Council about 587,000 Australian workers were exposed to silica dust while on the job in 2011, the year her father-in-law Barry died of mesothelioma. About 5758 of those are estimated to develop lung cancer in the future as a result of that exposure.

Ann goes on to write of the compensation the family eventually claimed and received - but she ends with a plea: "victims 9of dust related disease) are already fighting for their lives. They should not have to wage a legal battle or an information war as well. Read more: The Gold Coast Bulletin

Reminder: Draft silica standard
Safe Work Australia is seeking input on the recommended values for respirable crystalline silica (RCS) and respirable coal dust (RCD). The draft report on silica recommends a TWA of 0.02 mg/m3 to protect for fibrosis and silicosis, and consequently minimise the risk of lung cancer, in workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica at the workplace.

To provide comments on the draft evaluation reports and recommendations for respirable crystalline silica and respirable coal dust by 30 April 2019, access the SWA consultation platform Engage.  Help strengthen the VTHC submission supporting the reduced exposure standard by signing Greg Ballantyne's petition now!

New guidance published
The VTHC welcomes WorkSafe Victoria's new guidance Working with reconstituted stone which is now available online. As we are aware, working with some types of stone exposes workers to crystalline silica dust. If the dust is not managed properly, it can have fatal health effects. This guidance is well and truly needed.

As per the guidance, reconstituted stone products such as those used as kitchen benchtops can contain up to 95 per cent crystalline silica. When such products are cut, ground, drilled or polished, they release very fine dust. Breathing in this dust is likely to cause deadly diseases, such as:

  • silicosis
  • lung cancer
  • kidney disease
  • autoimmune disease

This document outlines the employer responsibilities for controlling the risks of exposure to crystalline silica dust from reconstituted stone. It covers ways to control the dust, and requirements for health and air monitoring.

Industrial manslaughter: Update 
NSW Labor has committed to introducing industrial manslaughter laws, double SafeWorkNSW compliance functions and make it harder for employers to conduct covert surveillance of injured workers, if it wins this weekend's State election.

Labor also says it will ensure that all successful tenderers for Government contracts have the highest standards of workplace safety. A number of its policies are the same as those from its unsuccessful March 2015 State election campaign, including significantly increasing SafeWork's enforcement activities in its first term of Government, returning safety prosecutions to a re-established Industrial Court, and enacting special anti-bullying laws. Source: OHS Alert

Ask Renata

Hi Renata, 
Our boiling water tap (for coffee/tea making) used to turn off automatically upon release. Now it takes 20 seconds after release and there have been several burn accidents. Are there any standards/regulations for these hot water dispensers?

There's nothing specific in the Act or the Regs, but I think the general duty of the employer under s21 covers this situation. Under s21(1) of the Act: "the employer must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain for employees of the employer a working environment that is safe and without risks to health."

This covers everything in the workplace.  Section 21(2) is a bit more specific, and certainly can be applied to the boiling water tap. These are the parts of s21(2) which apply:

(a) provide or maintain plant or systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health; 
(b) make arrangements for ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable, safety and the absence of risks to health in connection with the use, handling, storage or transport of plant or substances; 
(c) maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, each workplace under the employer's management and control in a condition that is safe and without risks to health;
(d) provide, so far as is reasonably practicable, adequate facilities for the welfare of employees at any workplace under the management and control of the employer;

So: the tap mechanism is broken – and the employer has a duty to maintain it in a condition that is safe – which it clearly isn't, as there have been a number of burns already! It is clearly a hazard, has and continues to put the safety of workers at risk, and therefore the employer has a duty to take action to eliminate the hazard. This can very easily be done (so it is 'reasonably practicable')! The employer has a duty to consult with the HSR (are you the HSR?) – if no HSR, then the workers (See: Duty to consult)

If you are the HSR take a look at this page on how to resolve the issue and the steps to take. 

Please send any OHS related queries in to Ask Renata - your query will be responded to as quickly as we can – usually within a couple of days.

Gig workers: take the survey now!
This is a reminder for workers in the 'on-demand' economy to take our survey and share the issues they have. Gig workers Victoria, a network of on demand workers housed in Victorian Trades Hall Council, has launched the survey, which can be taken in English or in a range of languages to give gig workers a say.  If you or someone you know has had any experience in this sector, please participate and let others know.

There's also a team of organisers seeking to empower on demand workers in Victoria with the knowledge and skills needed to end workplace exploitation and insecurity. Check out the new Gig Worker website

Asbestos News
Templestowe: Illegally dumped asbestos
.A Templestowe park is still closed to the public after asbestos sheeting was found dumped in the reserve. Although Manningham Council tested the material and said it was "not airborne" (ie non-friable), some locals remain concerned. Mandella Street Reserve was fenced off after the council was alerted to the suspect materials on February 15. The council received a report prepared by an asbestos specialist on March 8 and is now determining the next course of action for the park. 
Source: Herald Sun

WA: stupid tourists visit Wittenoom 
Tourists seeking notoriety are ignoring cancer warnings to chase photos to post on Instagram of Wirrenoom, a condemned Pilbara town which has killed more than 2000 people.

Dozens of photos taken in the former asbestos mining town and nearby gorges show visitors with no protective gear, walking on asbestos piles and even breaking into dust-filled mine shafts. When the danger was pointed out to one such tourist, he said "I don't really see there being a much higher risk... as Karijini, (which) also has asbestos in the rocks. For the short period we were there I don't think we were affected by any health issues regarding asbestos." He and others seem to have no idea that even one exposure to asbestos can lead to contracting a disease such as the fatal mesothelioma decades later.  Read more: The West Australian.

And Wittenoom to be shut down
The old town is so dangerous, that the last three residents of Wittenoom will be made to leave and Wittenoom shut under legislation be introduced in State Parliament today. Lands Minister Ben Wyatt will introduce the Wittenoom Closure Bill 2019 to enable compulsory acquisition of the remaining 17 privately owned lots in the condemned former asbestos town. The government hopes a settlement can be reached with the residents rather than forced eviction. Source: The West Australian

Nauru: refugees exposed to asbestos
The ABC has reported that refugees living on Nauru have been exposed to asbestos after workers dumped it next to a settlement on the island. The asbestos sheeting was used by some to build makeshift sheds, which would have increased their exposure and risk of developing asbestos-related cancers.

Large quantities of the sheeting had been ripped off buildings by workers with Nauru Utilities Corporation - but some of the material was not safely disposed of. Instead, it was packed into shipping containers which were dumped only metres away from the Fly Camp settlement, where dozens of refugees live.

Leaked minutes from a meeting between Nauru's Government and Australian officials show alarm bells started ringing about the asbestos in October last year. 
Read more: ABC News online

J&J to pay victim US$29.4m 
A woman who alleged that Johnson & Johnson products containing talcum powder were linked to her mesothelioma has been awarded almost $30 million by a jury in California. The verdict follows a nine-week trial that began shortly after the start of the year. The jury, in a Superior Court in Oakland, found that the company's products were defective and that Johnson & Johnson knew this, but did not warn its consumers.

In December the company failed to have a $7 billion verdict in a similar case brought by nearly two dozen women thrown out. J&J is currently facing more than 13,000 suits across the U.S. by people who claim their cancers are linked to Johnson & Johnson's talc products. Read more: Gizmo.

More information on the site: Asbestos in the home and Asbestos in the workplace

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Ex-AFL footballers threaten concussion class action
Close to 100 ex footballers are said to be considering a class action against the AFL for memory loss and other cognitive issues they say stem from on-field concussion. Symptoms include epilepsy and seizures, acute memory loss, mood swings, anxiety and depression. Among those coming forward are Geelong and Essendon ruckman John Barnes,  Hawthorn's champion rover John Platten, and Melbourne and North Melbourne high-flyer Shaun Smith.

While a lot of the science is still unknown,neuroscientist Dr Alan Pearce said he wasn't surprised former footballers were presenting with epilepsy. An associate professor at La Trobe University, he said, "There's evidence to show the risk of a number of different conditions including epilepsy can occur as a result of a history of head trauma and concussions."  Read more: The Age; ABC News online.

International union news
UK: Bullying can never be acceptable in the workplace
British peak union council, the TUC has repeated its warning that bullying is a health and safety issue that must be taken seriously at work. Bullying was the second biggest concern for trade union safety reps after stress, according to the TUC's 2018 survey. Almost half (45 per cent) of those responding to the survey reported bullying was one of the top five concerns in their workplace.

TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said there are two key roles for safety reps. "The first is to support workers when they are subjected to bullying. The other is to ensure that there are effective policies in place to prevent bullying," he wrote in a TUC blog. He pointed out the TUC bullying at work guide for reps "makes it clear that unions are best placed to help give workers the confidence to challenge anyone they believe is bullying them, whatever their level in the organisation, and ensure that the employer takes action to protect the member and provide them with a safe and supportive workplace." But he added "we should not wait until members complain before taking on bullying, especially as all the evidence shows that workers are often unwilling to speak about the problem. We need to get in there first and make sure there are strong policies that protect and support the complainant and give a clear process for how complaints will be handled." The TUC guidance includes a simple survey form, "intended to cover both workplaces where there is no existing policy, as well as those where there is a policy – after all it is important to know that if there is a policy, it is working," noted Robertson.
Read more: TUC blog and Bullying at work: Guidance for workplace representatives. Source: Risks 889.  Bullying Section on our site.

Bangladesh: Government intervention needed for garment safety 
Global unions have criticised the Bangladesh government for its continued insistence that an effective independent garment factory safety watchdog gets out of Bangladesh by a fixed date, regardless of whether there is a competent safety authority to replace it. At a hearing of the Appellate Court on 18 February, lawyers for the Accord on Fire and Building Safety reported on the failure of negotiations between the Accord, the Bangladesh government and the employers' organisation BGMEA on the conditions for transition of the Accord's functions to the government. Global unions IndustriALL and UNI, together with representatives of the Accord signatory garment brands, have written to the Bangladesh prime minister and to the minister of commerce to request their direct intervention in resolving the impasse.

The letters state that a premature closure of the Accord office would have immediate negative and damaging consequences. "After the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, it became clear that urgent measures were needed to ensure safety in the Bangladeshi garment industry. There is no doubt that the Accord has helped transform the industry and save lives," said UNI general secretary Christy Hoffman. "That is why it is senseless for the Bangladeshi government and garment industry to push out the Accord rather than work with its safety experts on a credible transition." She added: "We should not turn back the clock and reverse the progress that has been made, and that's what prematurely expelling the Accord would do." The global unions say the Bangladesh government must end the uncertainty and come to the table with a real commitment to a credible and responsible transfer of Accord functions "based on a genuine readiness of the government to take over."  
Read more: UNI news release. IndustriALL news release. Source: Risks 889

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